Corri drove the truck back into the space port herself. Deck master Pyno laughed so hard he had to put his hands on his knees. He breathed deep sighs of relief. “Where did you find it?” he asked.
She pat her pistols as she climbed down from the truck. “Let’s say I had to use some duralon-coated persuasion with mercenaries in the badlands.”
Pyno rubbed his face. “Dear gods. Thank you. If that shipment had gotten off world, who knows whose hands they would be in by now.”
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“Military grade antivirals. They’re needed on the front line. How can I ever repay you?”
“That’s a good question.” Corri stepped closer to him. “I need transport, off world, for me and one other person. Someone who can keep their mouth shut.”
Pyno looked around to make sure no one else was nearby. He rubbed his jaw. “What kind of trouble are you in? Legal or criminal?”
“Better you don’t know. Let’s just say it would make our lives easier if no one knew we left. We’re short on time.” And funds, and ammo, and they were cutting into their nine lives. Corri gestured at the truck. “How many people did we just save, Pyno?”
“All right. I owe you big time. We all do. There’s a guy I know, my go-to for special cargo runs. Quiet. Trustworthy.” He practically whispered, “And I may be wrong, but I think his ship is cloaked.”
Corri grabbed his arm. Her fingers dug into it like steel pins. They’d been on the run for weeks. This could be the answer to her prayers. It also sounded too good to be true, but Pyno owed her something on the order of hundreds of saved lives. “Don’t lie about stuff like that,” she said.
“Swear on the Suns, may the Archangel strike me dead. He wouldn’t let me run a service check on this ship when he came in. He’s never done that before. But the deflector panels have power feeds twice as big as they need to be. The emitters are type four.”
Corri let go of his arm slowly, her eyes wide. Her heart pounded. “I wanna buy this guy a drink.”
Pyno said, “Come on. I’ll introduce you.”
Corri followed him to bay oh-three. The ship was your basic Courier-class free trader. You saw a lot of them in this sector. It didn’t look like much, but Pyno was right: those emitters were more powerful than a ship this size ought to carry. It looked like the engine was just overhauled too. If she didn’t miss her guess, it was Kaladian. This guy had more to him than met the eye, and he was taking pains to keep people from noticing. Corri liked him already.
A man in a synthweave jacket was doing pre-flight inspection on the starboard lifter. He looked about her age, maybe a little older, with stubbled jaw and messy hair that nearly reached his shoulders.
“Captain? I have someone I’d like you meet.”
The captain walked over like he’d known they were there. Maybe he did. Corri noticed holstered guns on both hips, and the fasteners were open. The captain had pretty, ice-blue eyes. “I think this is someone I’d like to meet,” he said with an easy smile.
Pyno chuckled. Corri rolled her eyes, but she had to admit she warmed up to him. Pyne said, “Captain Raffa Korsaro, this is Corri Asaria. Corri’s in need of… well, I’ll let you two talk.” He looked meaningfully at the captain. “Corri’s done me a favor, captain. The kind I’d normally ask you to do. Help her out, huh?”
The captain folded his arms. “I’m insulted you didn’t ask me, Pyno.”
“You were… eh…”
“Never mind. Got it.” Pyno excused himself. The captain turned toward Corri. “Pyno and I go back a long way, Miss Corri. He’s the man who helped me get my first shipping permit on this world, back when some of the local law, if you call them that, wanted to have me skinned. If he wants me to do you a favor, he must think very highly of you.”
“He said pretty much the same about you, captain.”
“Call me Raff.”
Corri repeated the story that she told deck master Pyno. Raffa listened. He put his hands on his hips as she got to the part about no inspections. The fingers of his left hand barely touched the butt end of one of his guns. Not a threatening move; more like a comforting one. She’d touched a nerve.
“What’s it pay?”
“You’ll have to take that up with the woman I work for.” There wasn’t much. Not enough to be worth the trouble.
He didn’t blink. “We’ll do that. I have a family and friends discount. Come on aboard. I’ll show you the ship.”
Raffa lead the way. The ship was clean and well-maintained. No leakage, nothing needing obvious repair. She saw armor dotted with pulse burns hanging in a work closet, probably to be fixed later. There was no smell of intoxicants, no off-color posters on the walls. A gaming table and a row of data disks completed the common area. Over the data disks, written in marker on a strip of duct tape, was the word “library.” Corri asked, “What do you read?”
“I’m a sucker for classics.”
“Yeah, I am. They’re mostly thrillers.”
She chuckled. “What kind of speed can you make?” Corri asked.
“Point four past light speed.”
“I only counted three reactor stacks. You’d need four just to make it to point three.”
“You counted my stacks?”
“I know more than just how to shoot.”
He smiled slowly. Corri could see tumblers turning, new doors opening behind those sparkling blue eyes. Yes, captain, I’m full of surprises. Raffa said, “Fair enough. Let’s go talk to my mechanic. She can explain it better than I can.”
They entered the engine section. It was a cramped space, covered with pipe work and the five pulsing hearts of the ship. A woman came around from between two of them. “Raff, glad you’re back. I—” She cut off. “CORRI???”
Corri’s jaw dropped open. Who she was seeing was still making its way from her eyes to her brain when the woman rushed to her and hugged her. Corri started to hug her, then hugged her hard. “Tish? Tisha Rayden???”
Tisha nodded without pulling back. They hugged each other harder, laughing and crying.
Raffa chuckled. He put his hands on his hips. “Well, I guess my mechanic approves of you.”
Tisha pulled back, barely. “Raff, this is Corri. Two-gun Corri, the Talovian I used to run with years ago.”
His eyes widened. “Your ‘kid sister’?”
Corri laughed and shoved Tisha’s shoulder. “You still say that?”
“Yes! I can’t believe it… what are you doing here? Who are you running with now?”
Corri covered her mouth. “I found a new ‘big sister.’”
“That’s so you.”
The cat was out of the bag. Raffa noticed her pause, and folded his arms as he waited for her response. All that Corri said was, “What you don’t know, Tish. Wait ’til you meet her.”